COUNTRY PROFILE

Official State Name:

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Capital:

Pyongyang

Population:

24 million

Government:

Communist one-party regime under Kim Jong Un

Military:

1.2 million, one of the largest armies in the world

Most of the time when people hear about North Korea in the news it has to do with its nuclear missile program. No doubt the nuclear issue is a threat to international security. The human rights crisis in North Korea, however, is an even more dangerous threat to the fundamental spirit of humanity. What starvation, public executions, and prison camps, to name a few, do is rob the individual of his or her dignity. A person’s dignity is so precious that many would rather die than to compromise it. Yet, many North Koreans are stripped of their dignity and forced to live like animals under the North Korean regime. (From here on forth, the North Korean regime and the North Korean people will be treated as linked but separate groups because it is necessary to distinguish the two when speaking of the situation in North Korea.)

Lack of Freedom

The North Korean government denies basic rights to its citizens. There is no freedom of press, religion, speech, or assembly. People are carefully watched for any actions or even thoughts deviating from the Party’s ideology. Such actions include not addressing Kim Il Sung as “Dear” Leader and watching South Korean media. People are not free to move around the country without obtaining approval.

Famine

North Korea entered the Second March of Tribulation in the mid-1990s, the period that marks the beginning of suffering for the North Korean people. Anywhere from 1 million to 3 million people died during this crippling famine which was worsened by the collapse of the country’s food distribution system in 1994. The government began enforcing its military-first policy in 1995, giving priority to the military in all aspects of society. Available food was distributed to the military first. Although the regime probably intended to use the military as manpower to recover from the stagnation of labor on farms, the military-first policy ended up aggravating the food crisis for the people. The government began the “Two Meals a Day” campaign to cope with the devastating famine. Countless people resorted to eating bark off of trees and weeds from the woods to survive. Survivors of the 1990s famine have even testified to incidents of cannibalism.

The severe famine in North Korea pushed thousands of people across the border into China in search of food and money. Defecting is considered treason punishable by death under North Korean law but the dire situation of the 1990s was even too much for the North Korean authorities to contain. Although caught defectors could be shot immediately, the sheer number of defecting and returning North Koreans was too high to execute all. The regime had no choice but to allow some toleration. However, those known to have attempted to escape to South Korea were severely punished. Thus, many people crossed into China to find sustenance and return home to feed families.

North Korea has yet to recover from this dark period of famine. Malnutrition became a chronic problem in the country, lowering the minimum required height two inches for the military. North Korea continues to have a food shortage and the situation is highly sensitive to droughts and floods.

Political Prison Camps

(A rare satellite image of a camp)

Did you know?

These camps have existed 2x longer than the Soviet Gulag and 12x longer than Nazi concentration camps.

The world said “never again” after witnessing the horror of the Holocaust yet… Up to 200,000 prisoners are held in political prison camps in North Korea Prisoners are incarcerated in these prison camps for any anti-nation or anti-government crimes under the North Korean Penal Code. Such deemed crimes can be punished by property “expropriation,” correctional labor or execution. However, the definition for such crimes is left vague so that a broad range of activities that threaten the regime can be criminalized. Since the 1990s, people who have defected in order to go to South Korea, as well as those who circulate multimedia materials obtained abroad are also subject to imprisonment. Prisoners have no due process of law. Family members of a “criminal” are also often incarcerated under the system of “guilt-by-association.”

Living conditions are minimal and often horrific. Prisoners live in isolated villages under total control by authorities. Food rations are provided for bare minimum survival. Each person receives 5 to 10 ounces of corn and cabbage soup a day. Prisoners inside these camps are forced to labor long hours under unbearable conditions, leading to disease and death.

Torture is a common form of abuse and punishment for the slightest disobedience. Shin Dong-hyuk, an escapee from Camp 14 witnessed the teacher beating a girl to death with a pointer for hiding a few kernels of corn in her pocket. Female prisoners are subject to sexual abuse and forced abortion or silent execution in case of pregnancy. Anyone caught escaping is publicly executed as an example to the rest.

American journalist Blaine Harden tells Shin Dong-hyuk’s life in and escape from Camp 14 in the recently released Escape from Camp 14.